Intraoperative epidural analgesia prevents the early proinflammatory response to surgical trauma. Results from a prospective randomized clinical trial of intraoperative epidural versus general analgesia

Ann Surg Oncol. 2011 Oct;18(10):2722-31. doi: 10.1245/s10434-011-1700-9. Epub 2011 Apr 9.


Background: The intraoperative epidural analgesia (EA) has the potential to reduce stress response to surgical trauma which induces a transient immunoactivation that has a negative impact on the outcome. This study investigates the effect of intraoperative EA versus intravenous analgesia (IA) on the immune function.

Methods: A total of 35 consecutive patients candidated to undergo major surgery for colon cancer were randomly assigned to intraoperative EA (n = 18) or IA (n = 17). Blood samples for TNF-α, IFN-γ, IL-1, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, IL-12, and GM-CSF were obtained before surgery (T(pre)), 3 h (T(3h)), and 24 h (T(24h)) after skin incision. Data on postoperative complications were prospectively collected and analyzed.

Results: In the EA group, IL-4 increased from T(pre) to T(3h) and from T(3h) to T(24h), IL-10 increased from T(pre) to T(3h) and persisted unmodified thereafter. At all time-points, IL-4 and IL-10 serum levels were significantly higher than those in the IA group. Conversely, in the IA group, IL-4 and IL-10 serum levels did not change while all other cytokines levels were significantly higher compared with the EA group. In particular, IL-6 progressively reached a 7-fold increase of its basal value at T(24h). Complications were significantly more common in IA patients (13 of 17) compared with EA patients (7 of 18) (P = .024).

Conclusions: Our results indicate that in cancer patients undergoing major elective colon surgery, the EA attenuates the surgery-induced proinflammatory response and the typical postoperative transient immunosuppression and seems associated with a reduced rate of postoperative complications compared with IA.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesia / statistics & numerical data*
  • Analgesia, Epidural / statistics & numerical data*
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Colonic Neoplasms / complications
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics
  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators